At some point, it will be time to transition your baby off of breast milk onto something else, whether that is formula (if your baby is under one when you stop breastfeeding, or if you need to supplement), or to milk if your baby is at least 12 months old. Here is how to make weaning your baby off breast milk to formula or milk as easy as possible.
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Figuring Out What Milk to Switch Your Baby To
First, you need to figure out what you’re transitioning to.
If you stop pumping or nursing before your baby turns 1, you will need to transition to formula.
In the United States, formula is pretty tightly regulated, so there isn’t a “best” type that you should switch to unless your baby has certain allergies or dietary requirements. Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns, but generally, any brand you can buy in a store is fine.
After your baby turns 1, though, you have to figure out what exactly your kid should be drinking instead of breast milk and/or formula. Many parents switch to cow’s milk.
Some doctors recommend whole cow’s milk for 1-year-olds, others say 2% or whatever the rest of the family drinks is fine. (Mine actually said whole milk for one kid and 2% for the other, so who knows.)
This also might depend on your individual baby’s circumstances; for example, a doctor might be more likely to recommend whole milk for a baby on the lower end of the weight curve.
If your baby has dairy allergies or doesn’t tolerate it well, your doctor may suggest avoiding cow’s milk.
Here the most common alternative milks:
- Soy Milk – Soy milk has about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, and has some iron, but does not have sufficient calcium for babies. Some people have concerns about isoflavones in soy products and what is does to our reproductive systems, though the true effects are still being debated.
- Almond Milk – Nut beverages (of which almond milk is the most popular) are created by grinding nuts, straining, then liquifying the final product. These milks tend to be deficient in Vitamin B12 and have little protein compared to soy milk.
- Rice Milk – Rice milk is processed from brown rice, and it is the least allergenic alternative milks for allergy-sensitive families. The nutritional value of rice milk is very small, however, except for the fortified additives.
- Hemp Milk – Hemp milk appears to be a good alternative – it is a good source of protein, magnesium, iron, and vitamin E. It is generally well-tolerated by those with soy, dairy, and/or tree nut allergies. It is created from the seeds of the same plant used to make marijuana.
- Goat’s Milk – Goat’s milk contains lactose, so it might not be a good fit for kids with a cow’s milk allergy, but it is similar in composition to human breast milk and may be a good choice for some families. A multivitamin including iron and B-vitamins is needed for kids who drink goat’s milk.
- Pea Protein Milk – Pea protein milk is nut free, vegan, soy free, gluten free, and lactose free. It doesn’t taste like peas, has more calcium than cow’s milk, and is fortified with B12.
Weaning Baby from Breastmilk to Formula or Milk
There are two ways that most parents switch their baby’s primary milk:
- Making the transition can be as easy as switching cold turkey: one feeding your baby gets breast milk, and the next he gets the milk or formula that you’re transitioning him to.
- You can also make the transition gradually, slowly adding more and more new milk to the old milk.
On my son’s first birthday, I put just a splash of whole milk into his breast milk bottle to see if he’d take it and whether he had an allergic reaction. He didn’t seem to care one way or the other – or even notice the change – so over a week I gradually began increasing amount of whole milk in each bottle.
He was in daycare at the time, so I just kept bringing his milk in in bottles, as I always had, they were just made up partly of cow’s milk (with a little more cow’s milk every day). Once he’d taken some bottles that were all cow’s milk, I stopped bringing in milk at all, and let the daycare serve him the milk that they had for the children as part of the program.
If possible, I would recommend waiting to wean from the pump until after you’re started the transition and you know your baby will take the new formula/milk. It can be really stressful if you start the transition when you’re almost out of frozen breast milk, and your baby refuses the new milk you’d planned on.
Switching to Sippy Cups
One other thing to think about: if you’re switching to milk at age 1, you’re also at about the age that you make the transition from bottle to sippy cup.
If you’re nervous about these transitions, it might make sense to tackle them separately: get your baby drinking milk first out of a bottle, and then switch from a bottle to sippy cup, or vice versa.
My son had a really challenging time switching to sippy cups – I literally bought 10 different kinds before finding one that worked.
This one was great because the soft spout was similar to a bottle, it was just a different shape. Now we have an entire cabinet in our kitchen devoted to rejected sippy cups!
You might also like:
- How to Wean from the Pump
- My Experience Weaning from the Pump
- What to Do With Your Breast Pump When You’re Finished Pumping
- Gall, Stephanie. “An Updated Guide to Soy, Rice, Nut, and Other Non–Dairy Milks.” https://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2008issue1/2008_issue1_updateguide.php
- Dinsdale, Elsa. “Early Exposure to Soy Isoflavones and Effects on Reproductive Health: A Review of Human and Animal Studies.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257624/